Mohit Suri: I Was Being Selfish While Anurag Basu Was Struggling For His Life

He is juggling direction and production with the Arjun Kapoor-Shraddha Kapoor starrer Half Girlfriend. Mohit Suri who is 11-films-old now, reveals how a phone call from a hospital changed his life

Mohit Suri has established himself as a director who offers romance with a dark twist. Be it Aashiqui 2, Hamari Adhuri Kahani or the upcoming release Half Girlfriend which tells the story of a couple from two different sides of the track. While Arjun Kapoor plays Madhav, a boy who grew up in moffusil India, Riya is a spoilt brat from Delhi. In a free-wheeling conversation he talks about rumours of a tug-of-war between Ekta Kapoor and Mukesh Bhatt over him and how he got the biggest life lesson from Anurag Basu.  Excerpts:

When you were directing your first film, I was there on the sets. It’s been some journey for you. Now when people call you a hotshot director, how do you react?

Actually you feel more pressure. With success comes more responsibility and I find it unbelievable when people say that they find themselves more confident after success. I still remember you took my first interview when I was directing my first film and I clearly remember you asking me that what will I do if the film fails? It was only later I realized that I had not thought about it. It was an innocent phase where you are not aware of the meaning of a hit or flop. I knew nothing and I was only 22 years old. I was happy making a film. I think, after you are successful, you realize that people are watching you, judging you and then there is the pressure to deliver, be it your film or music or performances.  Sometimes you miss the innocence you had in the beginning but very few people will admit to it. What I have realised in the last 12 years of making and directing films is that I am in a profession that I really love. I can wake up in my sleep and go direct. By the way, I had no car when you first met me.

Which car are you driving these days?
Right now I have a Range Rover that was gifted to me by Ekta Kapoor.

Ekta kapoor gifted Range Rover to Mohit suri

Image Source:hdimages

I remember your actual directorial debut happened when you replaced Anurag Basu in Tumsa Nahi Dekha...
Yes, the shooting of that film had stopped mid way as Anurag was unwell and at that time Bhatt Saab had gone to Switzerland to meet UG Krishnamurthy and I was about to start my first film Zeher.  Like any other new comer, I was thinking that why should I take over another director’s film. I still remember that day when I got a call and I was about to go and watch the promos of the film. The promos were ready by then. I considered telling Mukesh ji that I was not interested in starting my career in such a fashion by taking someone else’s film. I was thinking in a selfish way. That day I got a call from an unknown number and it was a call from Anurag Basu. He had called from the hospital, using his ward boy’s mobile phone and he requested me to complete the shooting schedule of an actor who was about to leave for the US for stage shows. His extra dates were not with us and Anurag wanted the film to be completed. At that time I wished the ground beneath me would crack open and swallow me. I was thinking selfishly about myself while this man was struggling for his life. He asked for a basic thing. I have seen many directors who announce pack-up at the sound of a mere sneeze and here was a man who was struggling for his life and was unaware if he will come out of it. Anurag taught me a lot with that one incident, that a film is beyond everything and I think that gave me the courage to go and take it up. 

You are being very honest? Where does this frankness stem from?
I think it takes more effort to pretend to be someone else. I have tried in the past to become someone else but I have always failed. I still remember working with Jackie Shroff and at that time I was busy with Raaz. He had told me that people work less when they become a director but tu kaam jyada karta hai. I think it was an eye opener that such a senior person can recognize something like that and it’s about time that you stop pretending to be someone else. It’s a fact that I do come from a family of directors – Mr. Bhatt, Milan Luthria, Dharmesh Darshan – they are all my cousins and yes, we are a pedigree. My grandfather too was a director. I have realized one thing that, to be successful you have to speak in your own voice. Bhatt Saab has often told me that I am the biggest monkey to have gotten off his back. He was the first person to say that after Aashiqui 2, I found a voice of my own and now I should go out on my own. He had told me that I don’t need his name anymore to piggyback on. Only a big man can say something like this. I remember telling Bhatt Saab that I hope Aashiqui does well, because of the sole reason that I have put my voice in it and at least the country knows and accepts the person that I am. If you see, my cinema changed after that. I got more emotional about my film. My music became different.

On a personal level I was hoping for Hamari Adhuri Kahani to do well and when it didn’t, it sort of disappointed me.

I am 11-films-old today though I am 36 years of age.

mohit suri with mahesh bhatt at an Event
Images Source: hdimages

That’s a superb achievement I would say...
Yes, just as I informed you earlier, when I started I was just happy making films. I was making one film every year. I think it’s important to have flops and it’s important to have films that don’t do well. It’s because they teach you more and it’s more fun in the game. Somewhere down the line, if there were only hits, I would start taking things for granted. Today I am in a new phase of my life, as I have become a producer with Half Girlfriend. This has not happened because I wanted another title to myself or wanted more money, there is nothing like that. For me it’s all about challenging myself. We were just happy making our first film and this was the next step to do. I peaked as a director making films for somebody else. I realized that there is nothing more for me to do as a director because then everything will become a cycle, so unless I challenge myself, I will not grow as a person. This is the same thing I felt when I was an assistant. I had assisted in 8 films before I became a director. I remember meeting Mukesh ji and Bhatt saab and telling them that I wanted to become a director. Vikram Bhatt was doing so well that time and he used to pay us handsomely. Kasoor was my first film as an AD and because of the money I got, I even managed a second hand car for myself. At the same time the thought that I will become dependent on the existing set-up started bothering me. If I hadn’t taken then leap then, I would have never become a director. I had the same feeling before Half Girlfriend that if I kept going on as a director and kept working for people, there will be a fatigue. I tried to push the bar and decided to take more risk and I think that has kept me alive.

If there was a tug of war between Ekta Kapoor and Mukesh Bhatt over you, who do you think will win the game?
Well I will always give credit to Mukesh Ji for making me who I am today. Well I can’t forget the fact that I was ek raaste par baitha hua ladke tha and he was someone who picked me up. I had no clue what I wanted from life. My father was not around and my mother was no more. I was quite lost as everyone in this country at the age of 16 and 17 is. I still remember I was travelling alone in my car for the trailer launch of Half Girlfriend and I was thinking about it. The only thing I could feel was gratitude towards Ekta and Bhatt saab. There is no tug of war here, whoever I am, whatever I am is because of what they have taught me.

I think Ekta tried poaching you even before Awarapan released?
Ekta kept calling me even after the failure of Awarapan and asking me to do a film. There is a very interesting story. Ekta was jogging in Juhu and fortunately I was there. I saw Ekta and then I tried hiding my face, feeling ashamed. I was thinking that she will avoid me and won’t acknowledge me after the failure of Awarapan. It was sheer luck that as she was passing by a tree branch fell on her and she turned around trying to figure out who threw the branch. Then she saw me and said, ‘Mohit, I loved your film, please come and meet me’. And now it feels amazing that some people did believe that I would get somewhere no matter how my films fared. All these years she was under the impression that I had thrown the branch to get her attention.

How was the phase between the release of HAK and picking Half Girlfriend as your next project?
To be honest, I don’t know what to do with myself when I am not making a film. It was not because of the setback of HAK but the fact that my role was changing. From a director I was turning into a producer. The whole decision making process was taking a little longer and that’s why I admire Mukesh Ji and Bhatt Saab. They have made 60 odd films in such a short span of time. I still had Chetan (Chetan Bhagat) and Ekta by my side. The process took almost a year to start so I was very lost at that point of time. I don’t blame anyone for the failure but myself. I was just lost, not making a film and not being on the sets but that’s what came out of my film. I started a music label called EMI music along with Universal where I am launching new talents. I channel my energy in different things and that has given me a lot of satisfaction today.

Half Girlfriend New Poster
Image Source: scontent.cdninstagram

I am sure you had 25 odd scripts in front of you, why did you pick Half Girlfriend?
I think some things just work with coincidence and for this, the credit must go to Chetan Bhagat. I think he cast me. He gave me the book before the book was formally launched and at that time I had thought that judging by the title of the book, it must be a romcom. I was actually wondering why has he given me the book. But when I read the book, it had pathos and angst, which Chetan had noticed in my films, plus there was this whole musical angle too in the book. Then Chetan approached me and said that I was the most suitable person to direct the film. That is the precise reason people were shocked when they saw the trailer. They were expecting something light hearted but they got some intensity. I like surprising people. Be it turning Riteish into a villain, or changing the chocolate boy image of Sidharth in Ek Villain, or even casting Adi and Shraddha for Aashiqui 2.

Had you visited Bihar before the shoot of Half Girlfriend?
I had been there but just promote my films. Staying at Chanakya hotel in Patna does not mean visiting Bihar. Chanakya hotel can be anywhere in India. 

Mohit suri with his wife at an Event
Images Source: hdimages

So how were you able to get the milieu right?
Chetan was friends in college with Shailesh Ji who is Lalu Ji’s son-in-law. Somewhere the character of Shailesh in this book is sort of inspired from him and then he connected me to his assistant, Shishir. It was Shishir who introduced me to what Patna or Bihar is today and it was an eye-opener. If you go to Bihar then you will realize that Bihar has the richest culture be it Nalanda University, Chandragupta Maurya or Sher Shah Suri. It has an amazing cultural and educational background. When I went to shoot there, I had never seen so many ads of educational institutes. People over there believe that if you have education then you can become something in life. Over here there is a misconception that if you speak English then you know a lot. When I went there, I realized that people over there have much more aptitude than me. They see India as it is while we see it through an Americanized filter. When I was dating my wife, she took me around India. She took me to Banaras, Dehradun etc.  I remember when I was doing my recce; I kept messaging her and telling her thank you for showing me this part of the world because I was all along a Bandra boy. I was born and brought up on Carter Road, Bandra. And I had this mental hypocrisy, that if you speak English then you are intelligent. I discovered India with this film. 

Finally you must have shown your film to someone whose opinion you value. What was the verdict?
I will be honest with this and that one person will be Bhatt Saab. I still remember that during the release of Ek Villain he was constantly requesting me to show him the film. He was only saying that because he cared about me and he actually genuinely believed that if the film was a success, then people would say that it was he who did all the work. But somehow being from the same family and form the same genetic tree, I turned around and said, ‘Bhatt Saab I don’t want to do it, not for anything else but I will psychologically be dependent on you for the rest of my life and I want to cut this umbilical cord. I have grown up and its time that as a father you leave the cycle and let me cycle on my own. If I fall, I fall and if I ride then this it’s me.’ Bhatt Saab does not teach you anything about films, he teaches you how to be a person and find your voice. Whether it’s me or Kunal Deshmukh or Anurag Basu, he makes us find our own voice. There is nothing about cinema that we learn from him. What we learn from him is how to live as a man and as a person. So I think I turned around and said just that to him and he respected that.  He was the first person to come to the 100 crore success party of Ek Villain. You know how he is, but he came for it. I sent him Half Girlfriend’s promo and he sent me his feedback although he was busy with Begum Jaan’s promotion.


Thumbnail Images Source:hdimages

 

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